Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I've been scarce and my new Japanese line

Sorry for the delay in the program... first I got sick (no big deal) then my computer got sick (very big deal). It's still in the shop as we speak (along with all my favorites and bookmarks and passwords and files).

So yeah, I've been feeling a little lost this week... well, on the computer anyway.

As for jewelry, I started a new line... I'd like to refer to it as the "Zen" line, but that wouldn't really describe it. Since the designs are influenced by things Japanese, however, I am for now referring to it as the "Japanese" line.

Here are two pair of earrings and a necklace (click a pic for more info):



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Annual Clearance Sale, Jewelry-Making Video Library

I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're skeptical. -- Arthur C. Clarke

Clearance Sale

As some of you know, I have my annual clearance sale going on right now at eBay. The first of the listings end tomorrow, so don’t delay if you want to get in on the action.

Click here --> My auction listings

Here are some of the items up for grabs:



Jewelry-Making Video Library

Here’s a great resource from the Rio Grande website: Video Library

Make sure you notice that at the top of the video rectangle, there are different sections to go to, such as “Silver”, “Metal Clay”, and “Soldering”.

New Items

I just got in some neat vintage-style steampunk watch charms that I’m having fun making necklaces out of. Here’s the first:



This is one of my most favorite necklaces. It’s weighty and modern-feeling and the colors are warm.



And here’s a fun little pair of Sterling Silver and Garnet earrings.



funny pictures - Goggies R Owr Friends: You Will Be Assimilated!
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Firing up the Kiln, Picking Tangerines, and Winter Magic

”We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anais Nin

I want to get back into metal clay, but the amount that I’ve forgotten, combined with the amount that that’s changed has be realizing I’m going back to square one.

Today I made simple pieces (just textured discs, most likely) and will be testing my kiln settings.

I hope this goes well. I enjoy the process of working with metal clay… the rolling the cutting, the sanding and polishing. It’s very calming because you have to move slowly.

Working with clay forces me to “think ahead”… something I’m not in the habit of doing.

Phase one in the kiln is done. I’ll fire the pieces at phase two tomorrow morning. I hope no one pees or sprays on my kiln while it’s vulnerable (on the cement patio, raised up only on kiln bricks). There are two unneutered toms in the area. Hmph!

I mention this because someone DID once spray on my kiln. And yes, there is something worse than the odor of cat spray… it’s cat spray ramping up to 1800 degrees. The smell has mostly faded from the kiln brick and the fiber blanket at the bead door has been replaced (thanks to the kindness of an LE soul).

And wow… I really hope the raccoons don’t think it’s something to play with, even after the kiln cools down. I’ve got STUFF in there.

Wonder if I’ll get any sleep tonight.

I hope I don’t have to build some kind of caged fortress for my kiln. That wouldn’t be a lovely addition to the patio.

Oh, got a couple of nice photos of my Alaska kid over Christmas. She was taking full advantage of our nice weather here and picking tangerines from a tree in the orchard.



And from that… here’s a necklace I made called Winter Magic… don’t you just LOVE that Lampwork bead? Was made by a local glass worker by the name of Vanessa Hahn.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Review of How to Make Polymer Clay Beads: 35 step-by-step projects show how to make beautiful beads and jewelry by Linda Peterson

How to Make Polymer Clay Beads: 35 step-by-step projects show how to make beautiful beads and jewelry by Linda Peterson



Pros: Techniques and projects that would be nice additions to one’s polymer clay repertoire.
Cons: Not as hand-holding as a beginner might need.

First off, I have to say I’m not sure where Amazon got their photo of the front of this book (above) because my copy of the book has beautiful, intensely colored photos on the front cover. But the book was first published in 2008, so maybe they’ve changed the colors on the cover since then.

This book has four chapters:
Simulating Stone Effects (52 pages, 21 projects)
Mokume Gane Technique (12 pages, 3 projects)
Sculpted Beads (12 pages, four projects)
Millefiore Caning & Skinner Blend (22 pages, 6 projects)

The book starts with an introduction which includes a mention that this book is for beginners as well as people familiar with polymer clay. Then there are a couple of pages each on “tools”, “materials” and “techniques”. These few pages are really nice; lots of photos with the explanations and a plethora of “tips”.

If you’re not overly familiar with polymer clay and/or don’t have extensive knowledge on the subject, those first 16 pages really pack quite the bang for your buck.

The first chapter (simulating stone effects) is longer than the following three chapters combined. And although there are some clever tips and techniques to making your clay look like stones, there are also quite a few other techniques showcased in this chapter: how to embed a wire into the clay before baking, how to work with texture plates, adding alcohol inks, using UTEE (ultra-thick embossing enamel), image transfer, cloisonné, etc.

I read the second chapter (Mokume Gane) and made note of some of the techniques shown in the jewelry-making portion of the project, like using pewter sheet metal for bezel-setting. I will revisit this chapter at a later date and explore some more.

The third chapter is about sculptural shapes and de-mystifying the amazing finished creations. The author shows in detail how to make an end product that is more than the sum of its parts. She also shows how easy those parts are to make.

The fourth and final chapter is “Millefiore Caning & Skinner Blend”. After reading through these last projects, my respect for polymer clay artists continues to grow. I’m sure if one works with clay for long enough and gets into some sort of creative rhythm, things would go faster than what I’m imagining it would be like. But not coming from a polymer clay background, these final projects appear a little daunting (as in, I’d have to have a big work table and a couple of days to kill).

The final pages of the book include four shape templates, a supplier list, and an index.

As someone who has a desire to learn more about making polymer clay beads (I would definitely consider myself a beginner), I found this book useful. Whether or not the projects are your exact taste, there are enough techniques explored to help you create beads in a variety of styles.

But (for me) no book review is complete until I try at least a couple of the projects, so I flipped through them again and decided on “Moonstruck” (the fifth project in the book).

As I proceeded with this project, I began to think that someone just starting out in polymer clay might become frustrated, particularly if they prefer exacts and hand-holding.

There was nothing in the book to indicate the projects were a progression (as in “you need to start at the beginning and work your way through the book”).

65% of the projects in this book have 4 or fewer steps. Truthfully, I think these might be better thought of as “stages” rather than steps because within each “step” are several steps.

Be that as it may, I believe the instructions may be too pithy for a beginner.

Each project is laid out like this:
A list of materials
A paragraph on “preparation”
Three or four steps
A paragraph about assembling the finished beads into a jewelry piece

For my first project attempt, I already felt lost when in step 1 the author says “mix 1 part Translucent to a pea-size ball of Leaf Green”. I had no idea what “one part” referred to.

After I “Cut out 14 circles in the desired size,” I’m instructed to: “Place the circles onto a light bulb, trim any rough edges with a craft knife. Bake the circles.”

I get that I needed to place the circles onto the light bulb because each circle is half of the domed final bead and they need to be convex, but I don’t have 14 incandescent bulbs laying around the house or even five bulbs (assuming I could fit three of my clay discs onto each bulb). Polymer clay doesn’t “dry” the way metal clay dries, so I couldn’t rotate my pieces in stages either. An hour later after placing one disc onto my bulb, the disc was pretty much just as soft as when I’d placed it there. Removing the circle from the bulb removed any curvature I was trying to keep in the clay form.

But surely we’re not supposed to bake the clay ON the bulb, are we? I mean, the author would have mentioned this if I was to do that. And besides, even if I could find 14 incandescent light bulbs, I can’t get more than two or three at a time into my toaster oven.

I decided to read through some of the earlier projects to see if there was more explanation regarding this whole light bulb thing.

I go two projects back and found it. Yes, we indeed bake the clay ON the bulb. Okay… but if I put more than one piece onto my light bulb, they fall off during baking. Also, I have to rig something to hold the bulb in place. Little tips for how to accomplish some of this would be nice for beginners.

But regarding my project with 14 discs: the materials list for this project merely states “light bulb”, leading me to believe I’m to have many baking cycles. This is becoming a long project.

Once baked, the beads are made by gluing two of the discs together. As you can see by my photo (below), however, I had two problems with this. One, the discs (for me) didn’t cure completely evenly (user error, I’m sure). And two, even if I were able to glue these two discs together, I find the result to be clumsy and unfinished. The edges are not shaped in a way that makes them mesh.



I’m gave up on this project and went back to reading the book.

Project #2 looks interesting. These are slightly curved tube-shaped beads. The first sentence of Step 1 is: “Create eight tube beads using the tube bead roller.” Hm… what if I don’t have a tube roller? No alternative instructions? I flip back to the “techniques” section of the book and see that bead rollers seems to be the only description for making a lot of the beads in the book. Maybe they’re kind of standard with polymer clay artists. I didn’t realize this.

As with the other projects, there are no exact measurements for the beads to be created. There are photos with fingertips included, so I try to make fairly good guesses to the sizes.

I continue to read Project #2 and get to the end (step three) then ask myself: “How do these beads go onto jewelry? Where did I miss the step about making bead holes, let along HOW to?”

There is nothing in the project about making the stringing holes so I see now that when she states “Create eight tube beads using the tube bead roller” it is implied that you also put holes in the beads. It may take some getting used to, but things roll right along if you do.

For as many different kinds of teachers as there are, there are probably an equal number of different kinds of students. Some students don’t require as much hand-holding and/or exact step-by-step instructions, others do.

The next project I attempted was the Cloisonné technique on page 74. My finished projects didn’t look quite as glossy and thickly coated as the sample. The final instructions state: “apply a thin clear coat of gel” twice.

These are my pieces after following the directions…



Here’s what I was comparing mine to (the book example)…



So I decided to go beyond the steps in the book.

I tried three experiments. On one I use resin (left)…



On one I followed the exact book directions (middle) …

And on the final one I re-did the penultimate step in the project (“apply a thin layer of gel over the top and bake”), but instead of a thin layer of gel I put a really thick layer. Then finished it with polyurethane as the directions state “apply gloss sealer”, leaving the choice to the reader as to which type of “gloss sealer” to use (left)…

In my opinion, the only one that looks like the book sample is the one with resin on it.

But I like the project and will probably revisit it at some point.

I think a lot of the steps in these projects assume one has some familiarity with basic, standard clay bead making techniques. Honestly, if I’m new to something and it doesn’t specifically tell me to put a hole in the clay, then guess what… I didn’t know I was supposed to.

So I had to rethink how to approach these projects. I decided to think of them as overviews to new techniques that can be used to make cool effects with polymer clay. I won’t think of them as step-by-step instructions for beginners.

The front cover flap states: “Hand-made jewelry is always in fashion. So why not start the process from scratch and make your own beads? This beautifully illustrated book, packed with clear step-by-step instructions, will show you how.”

Either I took that the wrong way or it’s a bit misleading.

The last sentence there reads: “Beginners and more advanced practitioners alike will find both practical advice and inspiration.” Yes, there is indeed practical advice and inspiration. This is not necessarily a “how-to” book for beginners, but even a beginner can find practical advice and inspiration here.

All in all, I did find a lot of fun, new, and useful things in the book. I just think if you took a roomful of beginners, gave them this book, and said “have at it”… there’d be a lot of questions and at least some frustration.

There are implied steps and measurements, but if you can get past that there are hours of new things to learn.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Changing the Color of My Mannequin, Adding a LINKS Page to my Website, Looking for Jewelry Making Questions, and Showing off My New Purse Holders

MY MANNEQUIN

Yesterday I spray painted my mannequin. I’m okay with pale skin, but she was as white as a sheet of paper and it made way too reflective for photographs.

The color I ended up getting wasn’t actually that much darker than white-white, but I think even a little darker makes a huge difference.

Here are some before and after shots.




As you can see, the change isn’t drastic, but it is enough for me to now be able to color correct without watching out any of the mannequin’s contours. No more zombie effect.

She is a bit shiny though, and I tried applying some make-up powder, but to no effect. I’m afraid to mess with her any further though… mannequins aren’t cheap.


LINKS!!!

I have a new page on my website. I want to share some of my favorite websites with my friends so here you go: Click here for the new “Links page”


THE BOOK


As some of you know, I’m in the process of finishing up a book on jewelry making. I set up a form for anyone to ask a question they may have about the process of jewelry making and/or to add a helpful tip or bit of advice. Click here for the form.


NEW ITEMS

I have recently started using these table purse hooks when I go out. I *LOVE* the ability to hang my purse on the table’s edge… no more waiters running into the back of my chair and knocking my purse off… no more putting my purse on the floor only to discover someone spilled root beer there earlier in the day… and no more tucking my purse in some out of the way place and then forgetting about it. Eek!

I kept for myself the first one I made, but here are two others I’m offering for sale. Made with artisan Lampwork glass, of course.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tallying Up Last Year's Jewelry Sales

One of my favorite things to do in January is tally up the previous year.

I like to see how much I spent and where. I like to see what types of pieces sell and which ones don’t. And I like to see WHERE most of my sales come from.

Here are the percentages of my sales:
0% Artfire
4% Etsy
4% Private (people buying things from me outside of any formal selling venue)
41% eBay (auctions = 4%, eBay store = 37%)
51% My website (www.BrackenDesigns.com)

And the percentages of WHAT sold:
28% of sales were earrings
36% of sales were bracelets
36% of sales were necklaces

And now it’s after 10pm and I want to crawl into my nice warm bed and read my book (The Hunger Games).

I’ll leave you with a few more recent listings from my shop. (Click on a photo for more details)



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Staying Organized

Part of staying organized (which means MORE TIME FOR ME… YAY!) has to do with the word “immediately”.

Here’s an example: The other day I got in the mail a catalog of tools/supplies from what appears to be a model train company. It’s actually called something like micro-tools, though. Anyway, I decided to flip through the catalog while I was eating breakfast and I kept seeing things that I either want or at least want to look into at a later date.

I don’t want to keep the whole catalog so I just cut out each item I was interested in. At the end of my meal, I had a small pile of clippings.




If I put them in my room, do they just get added to more piles of papers that serve no purpose until I need something then go through the entire stack to find what I’m looking for? Eek! Not anymore.

So I “immediately” take a manila folder (I keep a stack in a handy place… it’s always there… I never have to look for manila folders) and slip the clippings into it, writing a note on the label tab: “Micro Tool Catalog”.

Then I place that manila folder alongside other ones in a green hanging folder in my file cabinet which is labeled: “To Order Someday”.




My file cabinet is very much like my computer. Folders and sub-folders. But it’s all organized and it makes sense to me and I can find what I need when I need WITHOUT wasting time.

If I had a penny for every minute I spent in the past 50 years LOOKING for things, I would really have an obscene amount of pennies.

I was wondering if anyone would be interested in seeing some of my bead and tool organizing tips in my upcoming book.

I used to have boxes of papers. And each time I wanted something, I’d sit on the floor with a box in front of me and go through the entire stack to find what I needed. That is NO WAY to live your life, seriously.

Y’know, these were all papers I was going to file “someday”. Ugh!

Being organized is such a time saver. And truthfully, time is one of our most precious commodities these days. So I’m trying. I’m trying to put things into a place that makes sense… immediately.

Granted, there are times when my workspace looks not unlike that of Einstein’s desk…




… but I try to keep that to a minimum.


I'm a little behind in showing you any of my latest listings. I made a couple of necklaces that are pretty noticeable.

You can click on either of these photos to see details of the necklaces.



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Make Your Own Inspirational Rotating Art Boards

Last week I put some “inspiration boards” on my wall.

When I look at magazines and something strikes me as visually appealing, I clip the image and add it to a folder of other cut-out images. Last week I went to Michael’s (craft store) and got some of those poster-sized school project foam boards and glued the pages onto the boards.


(I purposely blurred my photo a bit because I'm not comfortable publishing pictures of other people's images.)

The boards are so lightweight that I was able to put them up with thumbtacks.


So now, when I’m at my computer or at my work table, I’m surrounded by inspiring images of color and form. Everything from other people’s jewelry to seashells on a beach. There are clippings of animals, trees, buildings, galaxies, etc.

Also, it’s easy to swap them out with new boards at any time. I love change! Rotating the artwork in my room is a monthly habit.


“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” Albert Schweitzer

Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to Combine Two Blogs into One

Happy New Year, everyone!

Maybe 2012 can be a year of taking care of projects that have been sitting on the back burner for awhile.

One of those, for me, is straightening up my "blog" house.

In July of 2009, I started a blog project called "Going Green Jewelry". I had decided to try to use up components I already had before buying any new ones.

I had some cool info in that blog (including how to easily make a DIY photo cube for a couple bucks) and I was thinking I'd have to copy and paste that info into my regular blog (this one) in order to share with my readers.

But this morning I discovered a tool that Blogger recently finished beta-testing.

Export/Import

If you have two blogs that you want to mesh, you can export all of your postings from one of them into a holding area to be imported into your other blog.

Let's go one step at a time and you'll see how easy, fast, and workable this is.

First, go to the blog you want to take the posts FROM.

Go to the dashboard of that blog and select SETTINGS.

Right there at the top of that page, next to BLOG TOOLS, you should now see “Import Blog” – “Export Blog” – “Delete Blog”.

Click on “Export Blog”.

Click on “Download Blog”.

Select “Save File” (the default is “Open with…”.

Now go to the dashboard of the blog you want to add these posts TO.

Select SETTINGS.

This time select “Import Blog”.

Browse until you find the file that was exported (usually in the DOWNLOADS directory… named “blog-today’s date.xml”).

Enter the characters shown in the white box and click IMPORT BLOG.

Note: Do not put a check mark on “Automatically publish all imported posts” if you think you may want to go through the posts one by one to edit or ignore any.

As soon as you click IMPORT BLOG, you will get a new screen (the process is pretty fast) that will show you a listing of all the imported posts with an option to IMPORT them all if you like. I wanted all of mine imported, so I clicked on that, but you can just keep them in the listings and go through them at your leisure, adding what you want when you want and editing as you go.

BTW, this tool is also helpful if you just want a back-up of your blog. You don't necessarily have to import any blog entries. Just keep the XML file on your computer as a back-up of your entries and comments.

I still have lots of “stuff” to go through and clean up in my blog, but at least all the info is in one place now.

Talk to you later and happy blogging!